Skin Hunger: A breathtaking, heart-aching story

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA young adult fantasy book reviews Kathleen Duey A Resurrection of Magic 1. Skin Hunger 2. Sacred ScarsSkin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

Skin Hunger is two stories in one. Told in alternating chapters, Skin Hunger follows the story of Sadima, a farm girl who can speak to animals. Her mother died when the magician hired to heal her instead stole the family’s few valuables and left her to die as she gave birth to Sadima. Seeking to find someone who can understand her abilities, she runs away to the distant city Limòri and starts keeping house for two budding magicians. The second story concerns Hahp, a young man sent to the Magical Academy in Limòri by a father who wants to get rid of him. Set several centuries after Sadima’s story, Hahp lives in a time where magic is strictly controlled by a secretive enclave of magicians. In any class of students, only one becomes a magician, and the other students are never seen again.

I picked up Skin Hunger before I went to bed, intending to only read a few pages. Two hours later, I finally made myself put the book down, knowing that sleeping late the next morning was impossible. I picked it back up as soon as I woke, and sneaked in chapters between other tasks throughout the day. I was mesmerized by the story. It didn’t bother me that Skin Hunger flipped back and forth between two separate stories because they were both incredibly well written and compelling. As interconnections between the two stories appeared, it drew me even deeper into the tale.

Though written for a YA audience, this is not a light or easy novel. The magicians at the academy psychologically and physically torture their students to the breaking point. Watching these young men falter and fail was emotionally painful at times. Duey does not shy away from some of the grimmer realities of family and romantic relationships, setting up a bizarre love triangle between Sadima and the two magicians. Considering that half of the book takes place in a magical academy, there is very little actual magic done in the book. Instead, Duey relies on the characters to create a breathtaking, and heart-aching, story.

Visceral and dark, Skin Hunger is a National Book Award finalist. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, and ends on a cliffhanger. I am very interested in finding out what happens to Sadima and Hahp in their separate stories, and to see if their plans come to fruition. I would like to believe that a happy ending is possible, but right now I’m not sure how they will accomplish it. I highly recommend this book to any reader, YA or adult, who enjoys dark, character-driven fantasy.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit’s staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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